Sundance Film Festival 2022 Review: Honk For Jesus, Save Your Soul ★★★★

Finely tuned comic performances laced with complex dramatic undertones from Regina Hall and Sterling K. Brown leave a lasting impression in Honk For Jesus, Save Your Soul, a faux documentary meets fictional drama centring on the disgraced pastor of a megachurch aiming to win back his flock. Writer-director Adamma Ebo’s feature is an adaptation of her 2018 short of the same name and presents a sharply subversive insight into the hypocrisies of large media-driven personalities of flashy media-obsessed televangelists and their world of commodified religion.

Pastor Lee-Curtis (Brown) and First Lady Trinitie Childs (Hall) attempt to rebuild their reputation and restore the congregation of Wander To Greater Paths, which has been decimated by a sexual abuse scandal involving the pastor. Hiring a documentary crew to chronicle their attempted rise back to the top, the couple’s desire to control the narrative and suppress further scandal stands in the way – not to mention strains on their own marriage.

Sterling K. Brown’s fiery Pastor delivers sermons with the rapid force of a steam-train and the dramatic clout of an Academy Award winner. At his peak, his congregation would lap up his sermons packed with glorifications of his personal grandeur from his Prada suits to (“I have been blessed with some beautiful Prada”) and sports cars, describing them as his “divine additions.” Passionate sermons shown throughout the feature take on the “evil of the homosexual agenda”, particularly hypocritical given Brown’s own personal indiscretions – the specifics of which are patiently drip fed throughout the narrative.

Given the scandal surrounding the Pastor, our clear emotional hook and investment into the narrative is his wife Trinitie who has stood by him despite this – played with a wealth of complexity by Hall. The actress subtly presents moments of discomfort, picked up through awkward glances and uncomfortable body language – perfectly highlighted through the film’s documentary angle. The realism of the fly on the wall documentary leaves no stone unturned and Trinitie’s clear discomfort at her husband’s showboating and their apparent romantic disconnect are impressively suggested throughout these scenes.

The faux documentary angle also works effectively at discretely highlighting the cracks and behind the scenes conflict between the Pastor and First Lady, whilst attempting to present the façade of the blessed and highly favoured couple, yet both have a strong controlling desire to direct the narrative of the documentary. The comic notes predominantly appear in the Pastor and First Lady’s forced attempts to seem natural and honest to the documentary filmmakers complete with nervous smiles and awkward interactions – only highlighting their differences further. It wouldn’t be surprising to hear that Lisa Kudrow’s iconic Valerie Cherish of The Comeback fame was an inspiration on these documentary scenes.

The interspersing of faux documentary and drama works well to showcase both sides of the picture – the image which the Pastor wants to perceive and the truth behind the scenes. Blending both of these gives a sense of the full picture behind the story, only serving to highlight the hypocrisy of the Pastor and the exhaustion of Trinitie attempting to keep things together. An uncomfortable sex scene between the couple, where the Pastor can only perform anally, as well as the Pastor’s uncomfortable attempted seduction of the documentary’s soundman in the dramatic scenes give a sense of the discretions that led to his prior scandal.

The satirical tone blending comic hypocrisy and unsettling scandal, and impressively pitched performances from Hall and Brown allow us to forgive Honk for Jesus, Save Your Soul overstaying its welcome by around fifteen minutes. Ebo’s feature has all the makings of a modern day cult classic.

Honk For Jesus, Save Your Soul plays as part of the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Find out more details here.

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